Friday, November 29, 2013

What is Mormon Studies? VII

Those who belong to academic organizations know that unevenness is a constant problem. Some papers are better, or more important than others. Some papers are solid and some are sloppy. Some papers make one wonder how they ever got on the program in the first place.

By featuring particular examples of questionable papers, some may feel that they have been cherry-picked for putrescence. As well as viewing the trees, one also needs to get an idea of the forest.

Here are all eighteen papers on Mormon Studies on the program for the 2011 annual meetings of the American Academy of Religion, divided into general category, with the percentage that every category made of the entire program:
Comparative Religion (22%)
“‘I am a Mormon’ and ‘I am a Scientologist’: Recent Marketing Efforts in Mormonism and Scientology”
“The Personal and the Impersonal Divine in Mormonism and Bohemeanism” 
“The Enoch Figure: Pre- and Post-Joseph Smith”
“Not the End of the Story: Theological Reflections on the Mormon Afterlife” 

Race (6%)
“Jane Manning James: Reenacting and Reclaiming the ‘Black’ and ‘Mormon’ Past”

Gender (28%)
“The Mommy Wars, Mormonism, and the ‘Choices’ of American Motherhood” 
“Western Pioneer Mythos in the Negotiation of Mormon Feminism and Faith”
“Scripting, Performing, Testifying: Giving Faithful ‘Seximony’ through the Mormon Vagina Monologues”
“‘Further Light and Knowledge’: Ways of Knowing in Mormonism and the New Spirituality”
“Female Priestly Subjectivity and Dynasty in Early Mormonism”
 Sex (28%)
“Captive Bodies, Queer Religions: Scripting North American Religious Difference”
“Giving Them a Way Out: What American Muslim Women Can Do About Polygyny”
“‘I am a Daughter of My Heavenly Father’: Transsexual Mormons and Performed Gender Essentialism”
“‘That They Might Have Joy’: Towards a Posthetero­normative, Gay Mormon Hermeneutic”
“Joseph Smith, Polygamy, and the Problem of the Levirate Widow”

Arts (6%)
“‘For Death was That — and This — is Thee’: Stephanie Meyers, Theosis, and the Twenty-first Century Vampire Romance”

Pilgrimage (6%)
“‘When You’re Here, We’re Here’: Encounters between the Living and the Dead at Latter-day Saint Pilgrimage Sites”

Ritual (6%)
“The Cultural Logic of LDS Death-ritualization: Puzzles and Possibilities”  
As can be seen, sex and gender issues account for more than half of the program. (Rounding issues account for why the total percentage is 102%.) My survey over the past week or so has highlighted over a quarter of the presentations. This was a fairly typical year. These are fairly typical topics (although politics, which is another common topic, was not represented this year).

Mormon Studies has potential: potential for good and potential for evil. Proponents tend to downplay both the existence of the bad, and its size, extent, and pervasiveness. By portraying Mormon Studies only as good is disingenuous. I think Mormon Studies has potential to do good, but currently I find much of the work wanting in terms of academic quality, accuracy and faithfulness. The current trends are not encouraging.